You might be wondering: “Who’s the best primary care doctor near me?”
While you probably have plenty of local options, it can be tricky to find a good match for your medical needs. Not all physicians are equally competent, trustworthy, or friendly.
Use this checklist to find the best primary care doctor near you quickly and easily. You’ll also learn how to steer clear of untrustworthy or questionable health care providers.
Why is It Important to Find the Best Primary Care Doctor Near Me?
Primary care physicians (PCPs), also called general practitioners, are responsible for detecting undiagnosed health issues in patients, as well as providing care for existing medical conditions.
Like other doctors, primary care physicians complete medical school, then receive training after they graduate. Most primary care doctors are trained in family medicine, pediatrics, or internal medicine. But in some cases, gynecologists or other specialists offer primary care services.
In addition to sick visits and annual check-ups, PCPs also offer patients other services. These services include education, health counseling, self-care tips, and preventive care.
Because you’ll see your primary care physician more often than other doctors, choosing a PCP is a very important medical decision. They’re responsible for monitoring your health, diagnosing new medical problems, and referring you to specialists.
That’s why you need a PCP who’s skilled, caring, easy to talk to, accessible, and affordable.
The Checklist: How to Find the Best Primary Care Doctor Near You
#1: Begin With an Online Search
You can find almost anything on the internet, and primary care doctors are no exception. For your first step, use these search tools to figure out which PCPs are near you.
- Healthgrades is a popular free website that lists Family Medicine doctors and other primary care physicians, as well as specialists.
- Search Zocdoc by location and specialty (use Family Medicine or Internal Medicine to find a PCP). You can narrow results down by your insurance coverage, too.
- RateMDs is a searchable directory that offers reviews and ratings of physicians.
- MedlinePlus.gov offers a directory of services to help you locate a primary care physicians or specialist.
- Physician Compare is easy to use. It finds physicians who accept Medicare, but you don’t need to have Medicare to visit them.
As you browse these online search sites, be sure to make a list with doctors’ names and phone numbers.
#2: Ask Around, Too
If you aren’t having any luck with online searches, word of mouth works well, too.
In fact, asking around may give you a better idea of the top primary care doctors near you. Websites may offer rankings and reviews, but your family, neighbors, and coworkers can back up their recommendation with years of experience.
#3: Check Their Record and Education
By now, you should have a short or medium-long list of doctors.
To narrow down your results, checking into the background and history of each primary care physician is an excellent idea.
Medical errors, which include excessive care, unnecessary prescriptions, and improper treatments, cost over $17 billion per year in the United States.
Going the extra mile and performing a background check provides you with peace of mind. It could also prevent costly and dangerous medical problems in the future.
Here’s how you can check for medical education, credentials, disciplinary actions, malpractice claims, board certification, and more:
- AMA DoctorFinder tells you a doctor’s medical education and credentials.
- Use the DocFinder tool, Castle Connolly website, or DocInfo website to search for disciplinary actions.
- You can also contact your state medical board through the Federation of State Medical Boards website to request the above info.
- The CDC national directory of health departments and Medicare Hospital Compare tool let you know about actions against institutions and practices.
- Malpractice claims don’t always show up in other records, but you can perform an online search for your doctor’s name + malpractice to find more results.
- Certification Matters tells you whether a doctor is board-certified, which isn’t required but provides added assurance
- CMS Open Payments and ProPublica’s Dollars for Docs tell you how much money a physician receives from pharma companies.
- Prescriber Checkup by ProPublica can tell you if a doctor overprescribes certain meds.
Doing a deep background search can be time-consuming, but it’s worth every second to find the perfect primary care physician.
#4: Schedule an Appointment and Verify Insurance
At this point, you should have two or three primary care physicians that are the best of the best in your area.
Before you schedule an appointment with one of them, check out how far away they are. In general, the nearest doctor is the best choice.
When you don’t feel well, it’s difficult to make a long drive. One study from UM even found that the farther patients were from their PCP, the sicker they were.
It’s also a good idea to call each office and check for availability. Some doctors may be fully booked, and others might have a long wait for scheduling. While you’re on the phone, you can also ask how long established patients have to wait for an appointment.
Finally, find out if the office accepts your health insurance. Websites and directories are often out of date, so the most reliable method is to ask while you’re on the phone.
#5: Prepare For Your Visit
Good job! You’ve performed a thorough search, looked at professional records, called the office to do some additional research, and scheduled an appointment.
Now it’s almost time to meet your new doctor. But before you go, make sure to prepare for your visit.
If you aren’t currently experiencing symptoms, your first visit will be an annual check-up or preventive care consultation.
Before the visit, take some time to write down questions, concerns, and health problems, as well as any symptoms you’ve experienced. If you can, bring along a printout of your full medical history, too.
Last but not least, leave early to arrive on time, and don’t forget your ID and an up-to-date insurance card.
#6: Remember to Do This During the Appointment
It’s appropriate to treat your first visit like an interview. During and after your appointment, asking the right questions (which you prepared in advance) and taking time to listen to your intuition are essential.
Is the experience rushed, or do you get the sense that the doctor is taking his or her time and listening? How comfortable do you feel sharing thoughts, questions, and concerns with the physician?
Size up the doctor, the condition of the office, and how the office staff treats you. If a primary care physician smokes or is overweight, it can be difficult to take their health advice seriously. Additionally, don’t overlook stressed, rude, or impatient office staff.
While you’re there, you can ask for the office policies, and most facilities will also have a “Patient’s Bill of Rights” you can review.
Additionally, you can even obtain records on visits made and gifts given by pharmaceutical drug reps.
As soon as you leave, it’s time to reflect on how the experience went. Let your instinct guide your decision: if you didn’t feel valued, or the doctor didn’t seem engaged, or you just had a bad feeling, don’t ignore your gut.
Just because you went once doesn’t mean you have to return. If the experience didn’t go how you hoped, continue your search with the remaining doctors on your short list.
Bonus: Choose the Right Insurance Plan
If you can’t find a primary care doctor who’s a good match and is covered by your insurance, you may need to consider switching to a different insurance plan.
NCQA allows you to view ratings of customer satisfaction, treatment, and prevention for different insurance plans available in your district.
Before switching insurance plans, ensure the new plan covers any medications or other needs you have.
The Takeaway: Finding the Best Primary Care Physician is Worth It
Sadly, the days of country doctors and at-home visits are over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find an exceptional primary care doctor in your area.
Using the internet, it’s easy to sort through doctors and avoid the bad apples.
According to a study from Northwestern University, patients with PCPs receive higher-quality care than those without. In fact, access to a competent general practitioner with good communication skills can even increase your life expectancy.
Tracking down the best primary care doctor near you and forming an excellent relationship helps ensure your long-term health and wellness.